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|Posted: Mon Nov 10, 2008 12:13 am Post subject: 'Cats' not in the bag 11/09/08
'Cats' not in the bag
Neighbors of man who said a cougar jumped him tell their stories of seeing or hearing ‘something.’ Game Commission checks all reports. Sunday News
Published: Nov 09, 2008
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By JEANNETTE SCOTT, Staff WriterSamuel S. Fisher might be the only Lancaster County resident to claim he was attacked by a cougar.
But neighbors in this southeastern corner of the county say they've witnessed something prowling around their neck of the woods, yards and fields, and are going on the record with "ghost cat" encounters of their own.
Fisher, of Sadsbury Township, told the Pennsylvania Game Commission he shot a cougar Oct. 9. While searching for the wounded beast, he said a second cat pounced on him from a tree. Fisher said he stabbed that animal and it ran off.
After an extensive investigation, the Pennsylvania Game Commission concluded Fisher's story was a hoax.
But Missy Esh and her sister, Miracle Ohrel, said they saw a cougar on a May morning in a pasture across the street from Esh's home in the 100 block of Noble Road, Sadsbury Township.
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"We watched it walk the whole length of the field, and it looked like a big cat," Esh said.
She said the animal's body was four feet long with a 2-foot-long tail.
People often mistake fox, coyote, bobcats and dogs for cougars, said Cheryl Trewella, information and education director for the Game Commission's southeast region.
"I knew it wasn't a fox, and that's what they told us when we called the Game Commission," Esh said. "And this was before all the mountain lion stuff came out."
Breeding populations of mountain lions are long gone from Pennsylvania, said Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser.
The only cougars that could be on the loose in the state escape from people who own them — legally or illegally, Feaser said.
After Fisher's reports, the commission confirmed no cougars were missing from permit-holding owners in the region, Trewella said.
Without a nearby object to gauge the size of the animal from a distance, sincere people often mistake a small house cat or dog for a mountain lion, Feaser said.
Linda Mast, of the first block of Germantown Avenue, Christiana, told the Game Commission she saw a large animal in her backyard at about 11 a.m. Oct. 27.
When she looked outside — hoping to see deer that frequent her property — a large black cat prowled across her lawn into the woods.
"It had a round head and little ears and a real long tail that curved up at the end," Mast said.
It was about the size of her daughter's 125-pound Labrador retriever, she said.
She felt awkward about telling the Game Commission, she said.
"You know it, yet you feel like it just can't be," she said. "So are you going to say something?"
Several days later, her husband, Jim Mast, called the Game Commission.
Wildlife conservation officers investigated. "They were nice," she said. "They didn't make you feel foolish."
They showed her pelts of other animals often mistaken for mountain lions: bobcat, fox and coyote. None compared to what she saw, she said.
Mast, who has lived in Christiana for 44 years, said she's never seen anything in the area like the creature that stalked through her backyard.
"When you see it, you know it. Nobody can tell you you didn't see it," said Missy Esh. "I don't care if anybody believes me or not."
Her sportsman-husband Greg Esh went to look for signs of the cat after her sighting, she said. He found a deer carcass in the vicinity, but no cat tracks.
Judy Scott, owner of Water Gap Stables adjacent to the Esh property, has encountered evidence of what she thinks is a wildcat, she said.
She heard growls and screams through her open window each night for three weeks in August, she explained.
"It's a definite scream," she said. "It's like a cat fight but only much louder and much longer ... it's a cougar, a big cat."
Did she get up and look outside? "Are you kidding?" she asked.
Scott found tracks — larger than those of her bull mastiff — in the horse- training ring during that time.
She also found carcasses buried in mounds in the ring. One was the head and back of a fox, she said. Others were bones with bits of flesh left on them that she couldn't identify.
"There's all sorts of animals that eat different things out there," Trewella said. Coyotes, for example, eat red fox. "And we have coyotes all over, even Philadelphia," she noted.
Scott regrets not calling the Game Commission, or at least taking pictures of the ghost cat's tracks and mounds since Fisher made his claims. At the time, she assumed she'd be brushed off by the commission.
Trewella said she wished Scott had called. "We investigate every report," she said. And from the evidence Scott described, officers could have determined what created it, she said.
"If an animal is working an area, we'll find scat or droppings, and it's very unique," Trewella explained.
A few doors down, in the 400 block of Noble Road, Rick Woodhouse has had some unexplained events on his wooded property. They could be signs of a roaming animal, but there are more likely explanations, he reasoned.
Recently, he said, "Something got a couple of my chickens and one of my ducks, but the only thing that was completely devoured was the duck. I suspected that the duck died and the chickens picked it apart."
Woodhouse also said, "Something chased a couple of my chickens into the pond and they drowned and I can't see any evidence of the reason."
About five years ago, Woodhouse said, "I could hear the sound of a wild animal in the woods, then I heard it run off." He could not see it in the dark.
Another night he heard a deep, guttural growl outside that was so disturbing that a neighbor called to ask if he heard it, too.
Rabbits or fox pups in distress, as well as birds and barn owls, have horrifying screams, Trewella said. "It's amazing, some of the sounds things make when they're being eaten."
Paradise resident Valerie Englerth claims a cougar darted across the road in front of her car as she traveled west on Noble Road near Brick Mill Road, around 9:30 p.m. Oct. 23.
She slammed on her brakes to avoid hitting it, she said.
"When it first ran across I thought, 'Wow, that was a big cat,' " Englerth recalled. "Then I realized it was low to the ground, it was long, and had this really long puffy tail."
Englerth was aware of Samuel Fisher's alleged attack. "It just kind of seemed crazy," she said.
Fisher contacted the Game Commission Oct. 4, one day after he said he saw three cougars — black, brown and yellow — on his farm in the first block of Windy Top Road.
The Game Commission investigated Oct. 8 and found nothing, he said. The next day, Fisher said, he was attacked.
The knife Fisher said he used to stab the animal was analyzed by East Stroudsburg University; on it were human blood and hair from a white-tailed deer.
A red substance found at the scene of Fisher's alleged attack was initially thought to be a blood trail. State police determined it was not blood and are testing it to find out what it is.
The Game Commission will decide if it will charge Fisher with making a false report pending results of that test, Trewella said.
Fisher said Friday that his wife, Sarah, and three of their children saw a cougar on their farm Oct. 23, weeks after he said he was attacked. He was not home at the time.
"Black sticks out in a green field like a Black Angus grazing," Fisher said of his family's recent sighting. As it walked along the stubs of harvested oats, his family gauged the beast was at least two-feet tall at the back, he said.
Fisher did not call the commission.
"We need our Game Commission," he said. "What kind of upset me was they said [the attack] was a hoax."
Jeannette Scott is a Sunday News staff writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 291-8689.
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